Harper expected to find a room of luxury: even plusher couches, hazy smoke, naked women. Instead, she saw a conference table, office chairs of the highest caliber, and dozens of screens lining the walls. She stared around, confused, as the door shut behind her and the club went silent.
"Soundproof walls," Chloe said.
Harper blinked. Chloe was standing behind a chair, her hands resting on the back. There were others there, too: an athletic, freckle-faced redhead sipping from a coffee mug; the blond man; and Conner. They all watched her.
After a moment of silence, Chloe dashed over and threw her arms around Harper. "You found us! I knew you would. See you guys? She showed up like I said she would."
This snapped Harper back to reality, and she shoved Chloe away. "You got me fired."
"Sorry," Chloe said, though her cheerful tone sounded anything but. She beamed at Harper, then at the others, then back to her again. "Conner said you were here, he said he talked to you, but I didn't believe him. Well, I didn't not believe him, but he does like to play pretend…"
"Play pretend?" Conner said, sounding bemused. "Play pretend? I don't… god, Chloe. If I was going to lie, why would I lie about talking to Harper?"
"I don't know," Chloe shot at him. "Why did you tell me that sweater I bought made me look fat? It was flattering, and you ruined it for me. I don't know, maybe you enjoy — oh, what am I saying? It doesn't matter. The color was all wrong, way too red. It clashed with my complexion."
Harper cleared her throat. "What is this place?"
"Our bat cave," Chloe said.
"You know, our super-secret lair," Chloe said, her eyes twinkling.
"Sure, right in the middle of a popular nightclub, very secret," Harper snapped. "What is it?"
"All good things in time," Chloe said.
"God," Harper said. She looked back around at the others. "Any of you want to chime in? No? What's with the TVs?"
She looked back at them. Some monitored the club, as she expected. Another centered on a building she didn't recognize. Another on Patrick's — the now-burned ruins anyway, surrounded still by firetrucks. And the one on the end…
"What the hell?" Harper whispered, feeling as though she'd been struck in the gut. She needed something — a shot of whiskey, maybe. She sank into the chair nearest her. "Why does that show my apartment? Why are you watching my place?"
"To keep you safe," Chloe said, as though it was apparent. "We wanted to put one on the inside too, but all good things in—"
Conner stood, moving to interrupt Chloe. "Harper, I know you have a lot of questions, and you're probably freaked out right now. I would be too. But we're not the enemy, all right? We'll let you know everything we can."
He gave her a reassuring smile, but Harper wasn't comforted. "Who are you?"
Conner took a seat next to her. "You've met Chloe, and you met me too, Conner, remember? The fine lady right across from you is Sarah Clay, and tall, blond, and brooding at the end is Alec Morodan, our gallant leader. We're all pleased to meet you."
"We are," Sarah agreed, her voice light and pleasant. "I can't blame you for being confused and angry. But Conner isn't wrong — you're among friends right now."
Harper scowled. "Uh-huh."
Alec stood, not speaking yet. He walked over to the back wall, opened a stainless steel fridge, and reached inside. "What do you drink?"
"Water? Soda? Beer?"
Harper shook her head, then reconsidered. "Ginger ale?"
Alec rummaged around, then turned and threw a can at her. She reached out just in time to catch it. He then dropped back into his chair, staring at her. There was an intense look about him, and Harper couldn't handle his gaze. She looked at Chloe instead.
"You got me fired."
"You said that already."
"Well, it's true," Harper snapped. "I needed that job, you know."
Chloe rolled her eyes. "Actually, the job itself was—"
"Chloe," Conner said, his voice laced with warning.
"Fine," Chloe said. She threw her hands up. "Fine, all right. Harper, there was a person there stalking you."
Chloe shook her head. "No. I mean, yes, but no. He's been trying to find you — we just beat him to it. None of us were sure who he was, not until tonight, that's why we had to wait and observe. But the bar wasn't safe, I mean, you saw that tonight, right?"
"Someone burned it down," Harper said.
"Mm-hmm," Chloe said. "And you would have been in it, see? It was definitely that shady man, the one in the suit. He ordered something, brandy maybe."
"Scotch," Harper murmured.
Harper shook her head. "I don't know him. He's got no reason to hurt me. Nobody does. This doesn't make any sense."
"Yeah, well, see—"
"Maybe it's best if someone else explains," Conner said. "Alec?"
Alec pulled out a crumpled pack of cigarettes and a pack of matches. His expression hadn't changed.
"Alec," Sarah shot down the table. He ignored her, and she said no more, but Harper saw her give the cigarette a look of disgust.
After he lit it, took a drag, and exhaled, he said, "Your great-grandmother, Ileana—"
"Ivy," Harper corrected.
"No," he said. "Perseca."
"That's not right," she snapped. "It's Hawthorne."
"That's your adopted family," Alec snapped back. "You know you're adopted, right?"
Harper glowered at him, but most of her anger was from confusion. She nodded. "Yes, I know. But how do you know that?"
"We make it our business to know things," Alec said. He went on before she could interject. "On your mother's side — your biological mother's side — your great-grandmother was a woman named Ileana Perseca, and she was an important person. She touched many lives, and some still know of her bloodline. They want you dead so—"
"Dead?" Harper repeated. "They want me dead? No. No, that's ridiculous."
"The police," she said. "I need to talk to them if that's true."
Conner and Chloe both laughed, and Sarah gave them both a grim look that wilted their smiles. "Stop it, you two."
"The police won't help," Alec said.
"If they want me dead—" Harper said.
"You're not being hunted by humans," Alec said.
Harper stared at him. He said nothing else, and she looked to the others. None of them looked taken aback by this statement or in disagreement. She shook her head, pushing back from the table. Once on her feet, she said, "You need help, all of you. You're all insane."
"Harper—" Sarah began.
"Take down that camera watching my apartment," Harper said. "Stop sending people to stalk and harass me. I mean it."
"Don't go," Chloe pleaded as Harper moved toward the door.
"Just hear us out," Conner added.
Harper ignored them both. Her hand was on the doorknob when Alec spoke. "Stop."
There was something so commanding about his voice that she hesitated, her fingers resting on the handle without pulling it open. "I'm calling the police."
"You're going to come back to the table, sit down, and listen," Alec said. "If you want to leave afterward, we won't stop you, but until you hear us out, you're not going anywhere."
Harper returned to the table, her face red, and sank into her chair. She snatched up her ginger ale and drank. "Fine."
"Ileana was a gypsy."
Harper shook her head, disgusted. "Fine. Sure, whatever. You know, I tried to look into my birth-family once, there was nothing, no records. But you know all about them, fine. She was a gypsy. What's that mean? Caravans? Herbal medicines for every cough and sneeze?"
Alec looked at Sarah. "Please give her the locket."
Sarah nodded. She reached down beside the table and brought up a knitted bag. From inside, she drew out a wooden box. She stood, leaned across the table, and placed it in front of Harper. "This is yours."
Harper reached for it, then hesitated. She felt strange, as though the box was pandora, something that would change her life. She wasn't sure that was something she wanted, though.
She looked at the group. They were all silent, watching. Even Chloe was solemn, which finally spurred Harper into action. She placed her hands on the lid, feeling the light, springiness of the wood. She thumbed back the latch and lifted it away. The inside was lined with blue. She touched the fabric, marveling at the soft silk.
Then she saw the locket. It was silver, heavy-looking, and beautiful. Someone had cared for it over the years, but the age was evident. She couldn't look away. She reached out, brushing her fingers against the ornament, then lifted it.
The room disappeared, fading into white.
She was now on a hill, snow falling in light flurries around her. She wrapped her arms around herself, shivering. The moon was only a sliver in the sky, but it offered some light. Harper was terrified, but she'd been here before.
A dream, she thought. The hill, the snow, the houses down below with their brilliant little lights and the fires burning inside them. The people sitting together, hands clasped for grace over hearty, home-cooked meals. It was from her childhood when her fever had run too high. It scared her parents; they'd taken her to the doctor. She'd raved about the villagers with words they couldn't understand.
But she wasn't ill now.
Harper walked forward, the soft snow sinking beneath her leather boots. She could really feel it. She stared down at them, wondering where her heels had gone. For that matter, where was her skirt? Her vodka-soaked blouse? She wore a dress now, a beautiful one crafted out of strips of brilliant fabric. Somehow she knew she'd made it herself. It was too thin for the wind, and she clutched herself harder.
Bracelets weighed her wrists down, and her fingers held slim rings. She wore the locket from the box around her neck. Despite her fear, she was curious too, and she kept walking toward the village.
A plump man waved to her. "Ileana, how are you?"
She was Harper, though.
"Fine," she called back, awed at the deep rasp of her voice that could only be from age.
"Will you be at the meeting? We have much to discuss, and we need you for that, Ileana."
"Yes," Harper agreed, not knowing what he spoke of. He waved again and continued on his journey. She followed the road further into the village. The shops were closed, something she'd never seen before. She'd lived her entire life in Las Vegas, the city that never slept.
Two children ran past, a boy and a girl. They looked alike, same height, same beautiful curled brown hair, same giant blue eyes, same tinkling laughter. Twins.
She didn't know where she was going, not until she'd reached another small shop, one she knew sold bread during the day, and turned into the alleyway. She stopped and looked at the man waiting there. He was leaned against the wall, casual, confident. He wore trousers, a billowing white shirt, and leather boots laced to the knee.
Harper couldn't speak, not at first. Then Alec smiled at her, a long leisurely one that caused her heart to skip.
"I wondered when you'd come," he murmured in a tone that couldn't be anything but seductive. He stepped toward her, and she closed her eyes.
He said something else, but she hadn't caught it. She opened her eyes as a hand gripped her shoulders. She was no longer in the village. The handsome, carefree version of Alec was gone, replaced by this intense, grim man who was watching from the end of the table.
Chloe was gripping her shoulder. "Harper? Are you all right?"
"I — what happened?" Harper asked.
"You tell us," Conner said. "You went silent, still. I thought you were going to faint. Then you spoke in Russian."
She whipped around to look at him, eyes wide. "I don't speak Russian!"
"Calm down," he said, holding up his hands.
"I don't speak Russian," she repeated. Then she looked back at Alec, her tone accusing. "I saw a village, and you were there."
Alec raised his eyebrows. "Was I? Well, I thought this might happen."
"What was that?"
"A vision," he said. "I told you, Ileana was a gypsy. You descended from a powerful line of them, Harper. Most of your ancestors were skilled in many areas, but all had the Sight, same as you."
"Impossible," she said.
"No, it's not," he countered. "Think about it, Harper. Was that real? What you just saw?"
She thought of the twins, their laughter, their bouncing curls. "I didn't see it. I lived it."
Then she looked at the locket again, still in her hand. With trembling fingers, she opened it. The picture inside was of her — no, not quite her. The differences were subtle, but there. The woman shared her eyes, hair, and cheekbones, but her nose was longer, her laugh lines different. "Ileana?"
"Yes," Alec said.
Harper traced the locket with a finger, then closed it, setting it down in the box. She looked at Alec, seeing him as he'd been before, in the village. "You knew her. You were there. But you weren't any different. You looked the same as you do now. But that must have been over a hundred years ago. You'd be—"
"One hundred and fifty-nine."
"You said that before," he told her, impatient. "It's not, though. You don't get to decide what makes up the world, Harper. Just because you've only seen these things on television or read about them in books, that doesn't mean they're not there. In the shadows."
Harper put the lid of the box on, snapped it closed. "Maybe. Or maybe you drugged me. This could be a hallucination."
"We didn't," Conner said.
"I'm leaving," Harper said, standing up again. She felt cornered and confused, and she didn't want to be here any longer. "Don't follow me, or I'll really call the police."
"How will they respond to us if we're hallucinations?" Conner asked, unable to keep his lips from twitching toward a smile. Both Chloe and Sarah glared at him.
"Harper, you need to stay," Alec said. "We have to explain this. You have to know what's going on. I know you don't like it, we don't much either, but you are in danger. We don't have a choice. You need us."
"Fine," Alec said, his voice cutting. "Deny it all you'd like. But that man, he won't stop hunting you, nor will the others who work with him. They think you've got something they want, a powerful artifact of Ileana's, and that means they won't stop."
"But I don't have anything of hers," Harper protested.
Conner shrugged. "You sure? No magical family heirlooms hung up on your living room wall?"
Harper glared at him.
"You have the power of Sight," Alec said. "They know that, they'll use that. But if you help us find Ileana's nexus first, we can make sure they don't get to it."
"I can't help you," Harper said.
Sarah spoke again. "Harper, we have a job here, a responsibility to the city. If those demons find you, if they make you tell them where it's at—"
"I don't know where it's at!" Harper spun around, backing away. "Stop it, all of you stop it. This isn't funny, it's not, all right? Whatever sick kick you're getting from this, no, I won't be part of it, and you—"
Alec strode forward, pushed past her, crossed his arms. Blocking her path, he said, "If you leave now, you'll never have the answers. If you're anything like Ileana, you need to know everything. Come back, sit down, let's talk."
Harper stepped up to him, furious. "You may have known some woman in the past, I don't know. But you don't know me. Now get out of my way."
She shoved him, but it was like pushing stone. It did nothing. The flash of shock on his face was well worth the attempt. He looked at the others, but none of them seemed to know what to do either. Sarah stared at the table, Chloe slumped down, disappointed, and Conner reached over to steal her ginger ale.
"Well, we can't make you stay," Alec relented. "I wish you would, though."
"Wish in one hand, crap in the other," Harper said, her tone harsh. She felt disgust sweep over her, both at them and at herself. When Alec moved aside, she yanked the door open and fled into the club. The noise hit her all at once, and she felt like she was drowning in the flashing lights and overwhelming music. Her stomach rolled.
She ran to the bathroom, knocking into people but not stopping to apologize. Women were laughing near the sinks, another chatting on her phone, and a tall woman fixing her lipstick in the mirror.
She turned toward Harper. "Are you all right? You don't look good."
"Too much to drink," Harper muttered, her panic lending credence to the lie. The women parted, letting her through to the stalls. She shoved the door shut behind her once inside and sat down. The door seemed to stare back at her, and she found herself reading through the names and initials and words that people had scribbled on the door. Near the bottom, some love-sick girl had drawn a heart with the initials AM inside it.
Harper opened her purse, fumbled inside until she'd found a pen, then uncapped it, and then covered the heart in harsh lines. She breathed out, leaning back.
She wondered if she was losing her mind. Her thoughts kept returning to the group in the back, then about the locket — no. That was off-limits if she didn't want to lose it. She needed to go home, lock her door, and sleep for twelve straight hours. She'd wake up, and this would have been some surreal dream. She'd have her job still, and her life would be normal. Mundane, sure, but normal.
When someone called out for her to hurry up, Harper stood, flushed, and went to the sink. She scrubbed her hands, then walked into the club. The neon lights weren't flashing any longer, but the music was still just as loud.
She started toward the door, then paused as she bumped into a short man in horn-rimmed glasses. She began to apologize, but the words died in her mouth. He was green, she realized. It wasn't all of him, just a sort of hazy aura. The longer she looked, the stronger it became. He looked at her, tilting his head. "You okay?"
"You—" He had scales. And his teeth were pointed. "What are you? Gods, what are you?"
He lurched away just as she stumbled backward and ran into the crowd. She stared after him, that green aura only disappearing when he'd put some distance between them. She spun around and saw another aura, this one red. It surrounded an older woman with bright black eyes.
Harper bit back the scream that threatened and ran through the crowd, not looking at anyone, not looking at anything other than the exit. Once there, she shoved a woman aside and dove into the cool night air. There were people outside too, but there wasn't a line to get in any longer. The night was winding down.
She saw the man who'd been stamping hands, though, the one who'd marked her as a VIP. He was leaning against the wall, smoking while another man handled the line. Harper shot him a look, worried, but there was no aura around him. She strode up to him. "Excuse me, you there."
"You work here," Harper said. "You must know the owners."
He studied her, not answering.
"Well? Do you?"
Harper glared at him. "Because I'm asking, all right? That's good enough. I want to know everything about them, everything you know."
She shook her head. "Nevermind, forget it."
He frowned. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," Harper said. She walked away, feeling heavy. She'd almost spilled her guts to a complete stranger. The man would have been calling for the men in white coats if she had. She walked back toward her car, telling herself that it was over. Knowing it wasn't.
Her phone dinged.
"Nope," Harper said.
It dinged again.
Harper cursed and snatched the cell out, sure that it was Chloe messaging her. But it wasn't. Brittney had finally responded. The first was a text asking if she was still at the club. The second was a picture of the guy she'd gone home with, and he was cute, she couldn't deny that.
The texts were so ordinary that Harper laughed, the sound loud in her ears. She messaged Brittney back, saying she was headed home right now and they'd get together soon. Then she put her phone on silent, put it away, and unlocked her car.
"None of it was real," she told herself, slipping behind the wheel. "None of this happened."
It didn't matter if she kept repeating it, though. She knew what she'd seen, and she couldn't so easily wave it away. She started her car and went home.